Ah, the New Year. A clean slate. Time to reset your goals…
But do you ever feel like you’re just rehashing the same ambitious—but unachieved—goals from last year?
What have I been doing for the past year!?, you think.
For one thing, you probably have too many goals. Shooting for the moon is great. But if you have 10 massive BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals), you’re probably not focused.
And if you consistently use January 1st to completely reset without examining the previous year year, you’re missing a key opportunity:
The chance to learn from the past.
Learning from the previous year can be the most important thing you do for your success going forward. Here are 5 critical questions you should ask yourself about last year to make the most of the New Year:
1. What Went Well Last Year?
This may seem basic, but very few people are disciplined enough to sit down and go through this exercise.
More often than not, you’ve forgotten many of the small accomplishments you made throughout the year. And this is a helpful consolation, especially if you’re still in shock over missing all your BHAGs.
Ok, maybe you did fail to meet the president. And maybe you didn’t follow through on your vow to end world hunger.
But you actually did accomplish things. You just need a reminder of what they are.
And acknowledging all the little accomplishments is critical. First, it gives you some positive reinforcement, momentum you can build on. Second, it reminds you that even the largest, most crazy-ass goals require small steps to be executed. You did make progress, it was just small progress.
Start a list of everything you can think of—personal, professional, doesn’t matter. Don’t edit yourself. Just keep going as fast as you can.
You’ll be surprised how many thing you come up with. Many will be mundane and insignificant. But others you will be genuinely grateful you remembered.
If you’re struggling to think of things, start by looking through your calendar, scrolling through your emails, maybe looking at your social media profiles if you’re an active user. Maybe even call a friend or a family member to refresh your memory.
2. What Could Have Gone Better?
Again, another basic question, but this exercise is critical. Many of us—myself included—tend to beat ourselves up if things don’t go our way. Instead of examining where things could have been improved, we internalize the “failure” as our own shortcoming.
This is a terrible habit because we never learn from our mistakes. And what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not just a missed opportunity, it’s LAZY. A cop-out.
The easy route is to say we failed because we aren’t fundamentally good at something.
The difficult route—and where we experience the most growth—is when we look hard down the barrel of that failure and really examine what went wrong.
Most of us are afraid to look too close, because we worry we won’t like what we see.
Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to be a lawyer…
Well, I’ve never really been a good conversationalist, anyway…
But the truth is usually more nuanced and less dramatic than that. I think deep down it’s not fear holding us back, but the knowledge that facing the truth is when the real work begins.
3. What’s the One Thing I Regret Not Doing Last Year?
Of course you “regret” not becoming a millionaire and you “regret” not being discovered on America’s Got Talent.
But come on…you don’t really REGRET those things. They would have been nice, but you’re not really sore they didn’t happen.
No, the things you regret are the goals you know were within your reach. Things you could have accomplished but didn’t.
That’s why I think it’s good to ask yourself, what is the ONE thing you regret not doing last year?
I wrote about this a few years ago: the beauty of asking yourself this question is that it becomes your own personal time machine.
Are you sad you didn’t accomplish something in Q4 2016? Guess what? You get a do-over! Granted, it may be 3 months later in Q1 2017, but still…
In most cases, if you regret not doing something last year, you will still be STOKED to accomplish it only 3 or 6 months later. But by recognizing that you could have done it last year—and you envision the steps you failed to take—somehow the goal seems easier to tackle now.
4. What Metrics Mattered Last Year? What Do They Mean for This Year?
When you look back at a whole year of your personal or professional life, it may seem like a big bowl of “memory soup.” Vague, cloudy, no real definition.
…Until you attach some metrics to it. Numbers!
By quantifying what happened last year, it gives you a better perspective.
I’m not talking about the number of times you went to the bathroom or how often you drank light beer or how often you thought about where formica comes from (hashtag shower thoughts). I’m talking about things that matter to you.
Because as they say, “what gets measured gets managed.”
Obviously, keeping track of metrics is extremely helpful in your professional life. But it’s also helpful in your personal life:
- How many times you worked out
- How many times you went on vacation
- How often you visited your family
- How much money you made vs. what you spent
- How many new skills you mastered
- How many books you read
- How many positive habits you developed
Maybe none of these things are important to you. But if you find the things that do matter and measure them, they give you a precise point of comparison going forward.
Maybe you read 10 books last year, but learning and reading is important to you. So, next year you decide to double it and read 20 books.
Maybe one of your goals is to call your grandma more often (don’t laugh). You realize you called her 8 times last year (bad grandson, do you want to be left out of the will??), and you want to be at least 50% better at grandmotherly relations.
Sounds silly, but measuring these things can really help make your goals going forward less vague and more achievable. Best of all, it helps you literally quantify your progress from year to year.
5. Who Were My Biggest Supporters Last Year? Who Will Be My Cheerleaders This Year?
As you look back on what you’ve accomplished last year, it’s easy to feel like you’re an island. That you’re in a solo performance and you’re the only one responsible for your successes and failures.
But that’s not really the case. Nearly all of us depend on other people.
Whether it’s tangible help, encouragement, or even constructive criticism, we couldn’t be successful without them.
If I’ve learned one thing in the last few years from meeting people through events like StyleCon, it’s that you must surround yourself with people who support and challenge you to tackle your biggest goals.
Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Whether or not that’s true, one thing is for sure:
You need your cheerleaders, your tribe, your village…whatever you want to call them.
And as important as it is to seek out those people going forward, you should also recognize the people who have supported you in the last year—often without you realizing it.
Who was a sounding board for you last year? A confidant, a shoulder to lean on? Who called you out on something you needed to face? Who pushed you to be better? Recognize who those people are in your life, and fight fight fight to nourish those connections in the New Year.
With their inspiration and perspective you can do far more than you could ever do on your own. You may also find in the New Year that you have the opportunity to give back and return the favor.
So, if you are looking at your New Year’s resolutions and feel like you’re just repeating the same seemingly unattainable goals from last year, maybe it’s time for a new approach.
As nice as it is to start fresh in the New Year, maybe you need to take a closer look at the past year before you banish it from memory. The insight you gain will give you a new appreciation for your goals, and also new inspiration for how to go after what you really want in the New Year.
What can you learn from last year? How does it help shape your goals for this year? Leave a response below—I’d love to hear from you.